Fight or Flight? Negotiating Conflict

I have a slow processer. Not in my computer, but my brain. My “fight or flight” signals don’t work. When badly spooked, I just stand there – frozen to the floor, unable to move at all. The same thing happens when I’m struck with emotional turmoil. My brain turns into a frozen gel pack. My tongue forgets what to say, and days can go by before my thoughts thaw out enough to process the problem.

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My New Running Shoes

For as long as I can remember, that’s how I’ve been. When kids were unkind at school, I’d be on the bus, hours later, trying to think of a “good comeback” to their comments. When my high school boyfriend cheated on me, I could not believe the evidence and went through weeks of trying to figure out what to say before confronting him with the truth. When “well-meaning” church members say something rude, I mindlessly shake their hands and draw a blank as to how to respond. By Wednesday or Thursday, I might come up with something. Maybe. When I feel backed into a corner, I tend to just camp there for a while.

As the former spouse of an addict, I remember often crunching through life on those proverbial egg shells as I tried to process the constant lies and slights and think of ways to confront without being confrontational. More often than not, I would stay silent, since by the time I was ready to speak about an issue, several more incidents had happened and the first one seemed moot by that time. It was frustrating to live like that.

I always wanted to be one of those people who could just say everything that needed to be said, right when it needed to be said, with no regrets. I’ve always wanted to be someone who knows when it is okay to walk away and when it is time to stay and deal with something head-on. But I never have been. Those lines are frustratingly gray for me.

As I’ve continued to attend my 12 Step group and to learn about how to deal with my codependent tendencies, I thought I was getting better. But some things have happened in the past week, which have revealed my need for greater growth in that area. God is not finished with me, yet.

Melody Beattie’s book, The Language of Letting Go, says this in the reading for April 4 entitled, Negotiating Conflicts: “Recovery is about more than walking away. Sometimes it means learning to stay and deal. It’s about building and maintaining relationships that work.

Problems and conflicts are part of life and relationships – with friends, family, loved ones, and at work. Problem solving and conflict negotiation are skills we can acquire and improve with time.”

She goes on to say, “Not being willing to tackle and solve problems in relationships leads to unresolved feelings of anger and victimization, terminated relationships, unresolved problems and power plays that intensify the problem and waste time and energy.” Those words exactly describe the past few days of my life. It’s not that I was “unwilling” to tackle and solve the problems, it’s that my slow processor could not do it fast enough to keep up with the pendulum that swung from hate to love to dismissal within a matter of hours.

I wanted to say the right words. They came out wrong. I wanted to fix it, but I was, too late. I wanted to explain myself, but I had missed the boat of the friendship in question. By Tuesday, it had pulled out of the harbor and was well on its way to another continent by the time I was ready to speak about what had happened in the first place. Talk about missing the boat! I was left with my head spinning and my heart hurting, wondering what had really happened and why my emotional feet were still frozen to the floor.

Melody continues, “Some problems with people cannot be worked out in mutually satisfactory ways. Sometimes the problem is a boundary issue we have, and there is not room to negotiate. In that case, we need to clearly understand what we want and need and what our bottom line is.” I guess that’s what happened. It took me a while to figure out exactly what my “bottom line” was, and by the time I was ready to explain that, it was too late for explanations. The relationship was over. It stung. Still does. Mostly because I know where my heart is. But it doesn’t matter. My slowness to act was interpreted as a lack of caring. And “who needs friends who don’t care”, right? Ouch.

So, where does one go from here? Well, I think I found the answer today, in the book of Philippians. The Apostle Paul says, 12 I don’t mean to say I am perfect. I haven’t learned all I should even yet, but I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ saved me for and wants me to be.

13 No, dear brothers, I am still not all I should be, but I am bringing all my energies to bear on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ Jesus did for us. Philippians 3:12-14 The Living Bible

I guess that’s what I’m going to say too, “I’m not perfect. I still have a lot to learn, but I will put on my brand new running shoes keep moving toward that day when I will fully be like Jesus. I’m not going to get stuck in trying to reconstruct conversations that will never take place or explain things to deafened ears. Instead, I will continue to run this race toward the finish line. No detours. Just a continual pressing on toward the prize of a Christlike character.”

Father, please help me to learn the lessons that You would have me to learn from this experience. I did my very best. It wasn’t good enough. That hurts. I spoke without thinking first. I’m sorry. I moved too slowly. That’s what I do in times of conflict. Please fix the broken thing inside of me that doesn’t allow me to “fight or flight,” but keeps me stuck motionless for too long. Please help me grow through this and to process the loss in healthy ways. You know how I am about losing people. I’d almost rather lose a limb than lose a person, especially if it’s by their choice. But I know that a friend who wants to be lost cannot be easily found. Teach me, Father. I’m willing to learn…

Beattie ends her April 4th reading like this, “To negotiate problems, we must be willing to identify the problem, let go of the blame and shame, and focus on possible creative solutions. To successfully negotiate and solve problems in relationships, we must have a sense of our bottom line and our boundary issues, so we don’t waste time trying to negotiate non-negotiable issues.

We need to learn to identify what both people really want and need and the different possibilities for working that out. We can learn to be flexible without being too flexible. Committed, intimate relationships mean two people are learning to work together through their problems and conflicts in ways that work in both people’s best interest.”

Today, I will be open to negotiating conflicts I have with people. I will strive for balance without being too submissive or too demanding. I will strive for appropriate flexibility in my problem-solving efforts.” The Language of Letting Go p. 94

Are you stuck in conflict? Do you need to walk away? Or is it time to stay and deal? Our heavenly Father understands exactly why we respond or react the way we do. He will reveal the path ahead to us if we ask Him to. He will direct us toward the finish line. He will help us to run our race. One step at a time. Have you asked Him, yet?

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